Don’t Zag for the Sake of Zagging

“When everybody zigs, you zag.” It’s common business advice meaning that when everyone is moving in one direction, you should move in another. It’s easy advice to follow. It takes no unique insight. You simply look where everyone in your group is going, and you go somewhere else.

The hard part – the question that takes unique insight to answer – is Where?

This question came up for me as I was watching a content team brainstorm their story. They were frustrated. Every story idea they came up with boiled down to a common direction that all their competitors were going. Everyone in their industry is smart. Everyone in their industry is moving to where the industry trends are leading. Zagging in this instance seemed to amount to either disagreeing with everyone else or talking about something different. They couldn’t disagree. And they couldn’t see how to change the subject. They asked, “If we’re not going to talk about what everyone is talking about, what should we talk about?”

In short: We want to zag while everyone is zigging, but where the heck should we zag?

The challenge in this case is that anything different than where the herd was going seemed so, well, different. Off-topic. Irrelevant.

Before a content team can decide when to zag and when to keep zigging, it needs to answer this question: Where are you going? Consider the Cheshire Cat’s advice to Alice when she asked, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

 

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where—” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

 

When it comes to corporate storytelling, any zig or zag would get the team somewhere. This team’s discomfort came from wondering which “somewhere” would give them the fastest success. They hadn’t articulated what that success looked like. Once we stopped trying to decide where to zag and focused instead on what the destination – success – looked like, the opportunity for zags became clearer.

When we know clearly, succinctly, and in no uncertain terms what our destination looks like, we’ll recognize the difference between boldly zagging when the time is right and zagging for zagging’s sake.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory

As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.


Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.


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Author: Robert Rose
<p>As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.</p> <p>Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.</p>